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Restorative yoga postures can be very effective in preparing the body for deep, restful sleep and though an hour or more practice can be a great way to train the body for this, using a short practice can also be helpful. The the most potent part of this shortened practice will focus on the breath. Because the breath is the only part of our autonomic nervous system that we can consciously control it gives us a direct gateway into the regulation of the nervous system and the relaxation response that prepares us for sleep.
See also The Science of Breathing
Here is my favorite sleep protocol. I often it use with my patients and students, who are struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality. You can do all of the points below or pick and choose. If you do them all, I recommend sticking to the order below. Before you begin turn off all your electronic devices and phones, set your alarm for the morning, brush your teeth, and prepare for bed. Begin dimming the lights. The effect of this practice can be immediate, but for more chronic insomnia you may need to stick with it nightly for a couple weeks before you experience changes in your sleep. The effects of this protocol are both long and short term, so commit to it for at least a month and then you can continue or use it as needed after that. The entire practice should take about 15–25 minutes, depending on how long your spend with each.
4-Step Restorative Practice for Better Sleep
This footbath is a great way to prepare for bed. By drawing the circulation to the feet, we draw ruminating thoughts and stress out of the head. Begin by drawing a footbath as hot as you can tolerate. If you are sitting with your feet in a sink you can make the water hotter and hotter as your feet adjust. I like to add some relaxing lavender essential oil to it but that’s optional. Stay for 5–10 minutes until your feet feel warm all the way through. No books, phones or other activities here, just relax. When you are done dry your feet and put on some warm socks to keep your feet warm for the yoga practice that follows.
Before you move on, gather the props you need (1 yoga block or towel) and a place at a wall near your bed. Then turn off the lights or dim them as much as you can.
Find a comfortable position on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Close your eyes and start to notice your breath. Without tensing or gripping, begin by simply slowing down your breath until you can count to 4 on your inhale and 4 on your exhale. As you feel comfortable here, progress by slowly lengthening each exhale 1–2 counts each round until you inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8. Staying relaxed is key here; only increase the duration of each exhale as much as you can staying relaxed. Visualize yourself leaning into the exhale each round as you release any thoughts or stress and relax into the ground. Continue for 3–5 minutes, you can build up to as much as 10 minutes over time as long as it feels comfortable and relaxing.
Child’s Pose modification
For this pose you will need a yoga block or a rolled up towel to place under your forehead. Sit back on your heels in a comfortable position then walk your hands forward and place your forehead on a yoga block on its lowest level or rolled towel. Stay for 2–4 minutes and visualize the thoughts pouring out of your brain onto the floor as you allow your mind to empty here.
Lie with your legs up a wall. Make yourself comfortable here with your head and pelvis resting on the ground, a comfortable distance from the wall. When you’re finished adjusting, begin to come back to the pranayama practice above, slowly lengthening your exhales to allow your nervous system to drop in even deeper this time. Make sure you are able to let the breath be leisurely, as you rest in the exhales so that each round you visualize yourself melting deeper into the floor. Do 5–10 rounds of the 4-count inhale, 8-count exhales then let go of the pranayama practice and let the breath be natural for about 5 minutes. When you are finished, gently roll to your side and slowly head right to bed (you can take off the socks if you like) without turning on any lights or distractions.
See also 15 Poses to Help You Sleep Better
ABOUT TIFFANY CRUIKSHANK
With a B.S. in medicinal plant biology and nutrition, a masters in acupuncture and oriental medicine, and a specialty in sports medicine and orthopedics, Tiffany Cruikshank is an expert in how holistic medicine and yoga come together. She teaches vinyasa yoga in Venice, California, and leads teacher trainings in her therapeutic style of yoga, called (what else?) but Yoga Medicine. Her book, Optimal Health for a Vibrant Life, offers a 30-day detox program with sequences, and her Twitter feed is full of delicious recipes to support a healthy practice. Learn more on tiffanyyoga.com